Posted tagged ‘sunshine law’

Columbia police alter tactics after video of raid goes online

July 6, 2010

COLUMBIA, Mo — The Columbia Police Department has modified its guidelines for drug search warrants
after a police video from the department, which included an officer shooting and killing a dog, hit the internet.
The Columbia Daily Tribune obtained the video of the February raid using a Sunshine Law request. It posted the video on its website May 3. The video soon had been viewed by people around the world, and criticism of the police began pouring in.
Police had raided the house on a tip. They suspected a man there was a drug dealer and in possession of “felony quantities” of marijuana. (Possession of 35 grams or less of pot is a misdemeanor in Columbia and is handled in municipal rather than state court.)
Police obtained a search warrant for the man’s house. Eight days after obtaining the warrant, the SWAT team raided the house.
The man, who has a felony drug record, his wife and 7-year-old son were in the house and witnessed the raid.
Officers shot and killed a pit bull and wounded a smaller dog. They found a small amount of marijuana and arrested the man.
As a result of the raid, the man later pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia as part of a plea deal.
Charges of possession of marijuana and second-degree child endangerment were dropped.
Columbia police since have revised policies regarding drug search warrants and procedures for serving warrants.

Rep. Jones files omnibus bill

January 19, 2009

Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) has filed an omnibus bill to strengthen Missouri’s open meetings and open records law, the Sunshine Law. House Bill 316, filed Jan. 15, contains several provisions, including requirements opening to the public most records and meetings of the Missouri Ethics Commission. The bill specifies that investigative reports prepared by Ethics Commission staff would be closed records until a decision is made by the commission regarding the complaint under investigation. If the commission would decide to dismiss the complaint, reports related to the complain would continue to be closed records. All meetings of the commission would be open, except for closed meetings when the commission deliberates a complaint. Rep. Jones gathered a bipartisan group of 18 co-sponsors for the bill. The co-sponsors include Rep. David Sater (R-Cassville), Rep. Mark Parkinson (R-St. Charles), Rep. Kenny Jones (R-Clarksburg), Rep. Jeff Grisamore (R-Lee’s Summit), Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff), Rep. Rodney Schad (R-Versailles), Rep. Walt Bivins (R-St. Louis), Rep. Shane Schoeller (R-Willard), Rep. Mike Talboy (D-Kansas City), Rep. Mary Still (D-Columbia), Rep. Jake Zimmerman (D-Olivette), Rep. John Burnett (D-Kansas City), Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst (R- Ballwin), Rep. Doug Funderburk (R-St. Peters), Rep. Tim Meadows (D-Imperial), Rep. Mike Corcoran (D-St. Ann), Rep. Rachel Storch (D-St. Louis) and Rep. Ron Casey (D-Crystal City). Among House Bill 316’s provisions, the proposal: 1. Requires most records and meetings of the Missouri Ethics Commission to be open. 2. Specifies that an association is covered by the Sunshine Law if it receives public funding through dues paid by a public governmental body or its members. 3. Defines “public meeting” to include any gathering of newly elected members of a public governmental body who have not formally taken office, but are meeting to discuss public business, with or without current members of the body, when a quorum is present. 4. Requires a notice to the public of a meeting to be extended from 24 hours’ advance notice to five days’ advance notice when the public governmental body would be considering or voting on a fee or tax increase, eminent domain, zoning, transportation development district or tax increment financing issue. 5. Defines the term “cause of action” in an exemption to the law as when “a lawsuit has been filed, regardless of whether service of process has been completed, or correspondence from a party to the body stating that litigation shall be filed unless certain demands are met.” 6. Limits persons attending closed meetings of a public governmental body to members, their attorneys, staff members and any necessary witnesses. 7. Requires data-processing programs used by state and local governments to allow for copying data easily accessed by software programs commonly available to the public. 8. Requires reasonable attorney fees be paid to a party successfully seeking disclosure of an investigative report compiled by law enforcement. — Missouri Press Association

Judge rules against Sunshine Law

October 7, 2008

The Greater Rivers Environmental Law Center lost a suit it filed against the city of St. Peters claiming the city
“knowingly and purposely” violated the Sunshine Law.
St. Charles County Circuit Judge Ted House ruled in August that the evidence did not show a “knowing violation” and that the records sought could be closed.
He also ruled the Law Center should pay court costs.
According to records, the Law Center had sued the city regarding development in St. Charles County and a river levee. The city argued that because it anticipated future litigation from the plaintiff over the levee, the city council could hold a closed meeting using the litigation exception to the Sunshine Law and keep a Federal Emergency Management Agency Letter of Map Revision a closed record.
The Law Center argued that the city could not close the record because the National Flood Insurance Act grants property owners or leasers the right to view the records and request an administrative and judicial review. (St. Charles County Business Record)

Documents reveal Missouri license records fee increase set to pay for computer system

May 27, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008
By DAVID A. LIEB
The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A sharp fee increase for state vehicle and driver’s license records appears to have been set to pay for the cost of a new computer system — a justification not allowed under Missouri’s open-records law.

The Missouri Department of Revenue this month began charging $7 each for license records — up significantly from its previous $1.25 charge. The agency also eliminated a discount to businesses that previously could buy bulk quantities of records for less than a penny each.

Missouri’s open-records law limits fees for computerized public records to the costs of the copies and the staff time needed to retrieve and duplicate them.

But documents provided to The Associated Press suggest the Department of Revenue picked the $7 fee to cover the cost of a new computer database for the records. The equipment and contracted maintenance of the sought-after system is projected to cost nearly $70 million by 2017, according to department records.

“The statute is very specific about what they are allowed to charge for — and equipment is not one of the factors,” said Jean Maneke, a Kansas City lawyer who specializes in public records law.

The AP received about 200 pages of materials from the department in response to a Sunshine Law request for documents justifying how the department arrived at its new rate.

Department spokesman David Griffith cited a lawsuit by four businesses that regularly buy the records to track vehicle histories and traffic violations and in turn sell that information to used car dealers, consumers, insurance companies and other entities.

That lawsuit contends the new $7 fee violates Missouri’s Sunshine Law, and a hearing on a preliminary injunction request is set for May 29. Attorneys involved in that lawsuit also received the documents provided to the AP.

Those documents include numerous calculations about how much money would be generated for the department under various fee-increase options.

For example, an undated spreadsheet prepared by the fiscal manager for the department’s Customer Services Division projects that a fee of $7.09 per record would cover the one-time cost and annual maintenance for the new system.

Another document from the same manager, dated Dec. 6, shows several options crossed out with a rectangle drawn around a computer configuration option that would result in a fee of $6.90 to cover one-time costs and annual maintenance.

Department Director Omar Davis has previously acknowledged the fee increase would pay for the equipment. When outraged legislators voted last week to limit the agency’s bulk-purchase fee to 0.5 cents per record, Davis said the department probably would have to cancel its contract for the new system.

One of the attorneys suing the department said the documents show the fee increase was not set according to the Sunshine Law.

“My impression is that it does not justify the drastic increase in fees, that should be simply the cost of an employee getting an electronic copy generated and put on some type of a CD or other electronic media form, and that’s it,” said attorney Alex Bartlett, who represents Experian Information Solutions Inc.

Fliers prepared by the department list the basic fee as $7, plus a $2 processing fee when purchasing the records from the state’s contractor-run license offices.

The flier states: “The Department of Revenue has determined this price more accurately reflects its costs and is comparable to fees charged by other states for driver records.”

But a department document dated Dec. 21, 2006, indicates that an employee can process a record request in 3.5 minutes, which when divided by the employee’s hourly wage, results in a record retrieval cost of 67 cents. The department also can charge 10 cents per page for a copy of the records, according to the Sunshine Law.

The 2006 document also adds numerous other things into the cost of each record sale, including prorated portions of the salaries for various department supervisors, attorneys, fiscal staff and human resources employees.

When factoring in those other personnel, the cost for each driver’s license record sale would equal $7.17 and $11.56 for each motor vehicle record sale, the document states. When adding prorated expenses for staff travel, training and supplies, such as license plates, the cost for each driver’s license record sale would be $13.40, and $21.69 for each motor vehicle record sale, the document states.

Maneke, who reviewed the document at AP’s request, said such costs cannot be passed on to the public seeking copies of the records.

“That is ridiculous to be building that into this, it is illegal under state law,” said Maneke, later adding: “This kind of document is the kind of thing that a lawyer bringing a Sunshine Law suit would find very damning in terms of evidence against the Department of Revenue.”

Griffith defended the department’s cost estimates.

“I think the information that is in there is accurate,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s been padded.”

‘More Government in the Sunshine’ Bill Introduced

February 20, 2008

State Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) introduced on Feb. 18, House Bill 2210 to amend and make improvements to Missouri’s Open Meetings and Open Records Law.  The Missouri Press Association is supporting the bipartisan bill, and thanks Rep. Jones and the 14 co-sponsors.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Republican State Reps. Steve Tilley (Perryville), Mike Thomson (Maryville), Ellen Brandom (Sikeston), Ed Robb (Columbia), David Pearce (Warrensburg), Chuck Portwood (Ballwin), Bob Nance (Excelsior Springs) and Stanley Cox (Sedalia), and Democrat State Reps. Paul LeVota (Independence), John Burnett (Kansas City), Jeff Roorda (Barnhart), Jake Zimmerman (Olivette) and Rachel Storch (St. Louis).

The proposed changes in HB 2210 include:
Records of the Missouri Ethics Commission would be open, except investigative reports by the commission staff will be closed records until a decision is made as to the complaint under investigation.  If the commission dismisses the complaint, such investigative reports shall continue to be closed.  All meetings of the commission shall be open, except when the commission deliberates a complaint before the commission.

The definition of a public governmental body would be expanded to include any entity that receives at least 51 percent of its annual budget either directly from tax revenue from the public or from public governmental bodies or from the federal government.

The definition of a quasi-public governmental body would be expanded to include private entities that manage a publicly-owned facility or service.

The definition of a “public meeting” would be expanded to include any gathering of newly-elected members of the body who have not formally taken office, with or without current members of the body, discussing public business such that a quorum of the body is present at such meetings.

The definition of “public records” would be expanded to include any lease, sublease, rental agreement or similar document entered into by any public governmental body and any private entity hired to manage a publicly-owned facility or service.

The term “cause of action” would be defined as evidence that a lawsuit has been filed, although not yet served, or correspondence from a party to the public governmental body stating that litigation shall be filed unless certain demands are met.

The bill would limit who can attend a closed meeting:  only members of a public governmental body and their attorney and staff assistants, and any person necessary to provide information needed by the public governmental body in regard to the matter being discussed, would be permitted in a closed meeting.

The bill would provide that records should be easily accessible to the public.  Computer programs used to manipulate data collected by public governmental bodies shall be such that all data contained in the program may be easily accessed and manipulated by programs commonly available to the public.

The bill would address the burden of proof in litigation on access to criminal records:  a court shall find that the person seeking disclosure of an investigative report shall have his/her reasonable costs and attorney fees paid if the court finds the decision of law enforcement not to open the investigative report was substantially unjustified under all relevant circumstances.

Sunshine, shield on legislative agenda

December 13, 2007

Revenue Dept. rules newspapers should not have to pay taxes on delivery costs 

By MPA President David Bradley
St. Joseph News-Press
My term as president of Missouri Press Association has passed by in a flash. Yes, the official duties took a little time, but the enjoyment of carrying them out far outweighed the work.
The MPA staff has done a great job of keeping me on task. The group, particularly event director Kristie Williams, made the annual MPA Convention in St. Louis the highlight of my year. Next year’s convention in Columbia will be huge joining with the 100th anniversary celebration of the Missouri School of Journalism.
Jack Whitaker of Hannibal will fill the presidential role in January. Jack has been on the
MPA Board for several years and helped push our state’s newspaper industry into the digital age. He has also built a financially viable community website and, at the same time, increased his print circulation. That’s impressive.
In November, University of Missouri Interim President Gordon Lamb hosted an MPA luncheon at the president’s residence on the Columbia campus. Dr. Lamb presented a $38 million proposal to increase the number of health care professionals for Missouri. He said the state is facing a growing shortage of pharmacists, nurses, dentists and doctors in rural and low-income urban areas.
Dr. Lamb said all Missouri colleges and universities are working together to come up with a funding formula for the schools. He is going on a statewide “University Unity
Tour” with other higher education institutions to make their case for funding from the legislature.
The MPA is also gearing up for some important legislative initiatives in 2008. With the help of MPA counselor Jean Maneke, we will try to button up some loopholes in
Missouri’s Sunshine Law. We also will try again to push through a Free Flow of Information bill, known as a shield law, to protect reporters and editors (and their sources) who are investigating misdeeds.
Also in Jefferson City, the Missouri Department of Revenue issued a private letter ruling that could provide many Missouri newspapers relief on their sales tax burden. The letter,
issued to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, ruled that the newspaper shouldn’t have to pay sales tax on its delivery costs to newspaper customers.
MPA played an important role in facilitating face-to-face meetings between the department and publishers from the Post-Dispatch and The Kansas City Star.
Before you stop paying this tax, you will need a departmental ruling addressed to your own newspaper. But at least the template has been created for your paper to qualify for such an exemption.
On another matter, your MPA Board reluctantly approved a 25 percent dues increase
for 2008 to fund a statewide newspaper website for public notices and other legal advertising. We hope to reassure legislators that Missouri newspapers will make sure this type of advertising adequately reaches the public in print and online. This is the
first dues increase since 2001.
We were surprised to hear that Gary and Helen Sosniecki have sold The Vandalia Leader and are taking time off for a well-deserved rest. They have been superb MPA board members, and Gary headed the association in 2004. Gary assures me that they will be back after the first of the year looking for newspaper work. “And if we can’t find anything, we may be buying a paper,” he hinted.
Finally, we were glad to see one positive article about our industry in the Oct. 29 issue of Advertising Age headlined “Stop writing those obituaries for the newspaper industry.” Marc Brownstein of the Brownstein Group in Philadelphia said that “innovation and a keen sense of competition will win the day for newspapers.”
MPA knows that is top priority, too. So keep telling us how we can help.